Jay Trinidad, a professional photographer who lives on Bainbridge Island, was on his way home on Thursday evening when he saw a man with a red swastika armband sitting in the passenger waiting area of the downtown Seattle ferry dock. He took an extraordinary photo of the man.
They did not exchange words. "I was walking around the terminal and then I saw him," Trinidad told me today. "I'm like, 'He's really doing that? Today?' There were people sitting next to him. There were a lot of people around. It just struck me as bizarre... Here's a guy with Nazi armband and no one is pointing and saying, 'What is going on there?'"
Trinidad is a brown-skinned Filipino American. His first impulse was not to take a photo. He stepped outside and changed his mind. "I took a deep breath and walked back in," he said. "And I walked up there and I slowly raised my camera." He was about ten feet away.
The man looked up and scowled. Trinidad said he was mentally preparing to fight the man. "I have several inches and probably 25 pounds on the dude," Trinidad said. "Yeah, you're free to do that and I'm free to show what kind of person you are. I dare you to react." But the man sat there and looked at him as Trinidad took several photos, stopping and checking how each one came out on his camera's rear-facing screen as he did so.
"What struck me about this was the complete brazenness on the day the whole country was learning about Charleston," Trinidad said. "It struck me as him basically sticking his middle finger up to everyone who could see him."
But nobody openly challenged the man. Trinidad said the couple to his right in the photo seemed nonplussed. He didn't speak with them either.
"Either he sat down next to these people and they didn't move, or they sat down next to him," he said. "Either way, you cannot miss the gigantic swastika on the guy's arm... It's like he's trying to flex his little Nazi bicep."
Trinidad got on his homebound ferry. He feels deeply unsettled by the incident, wondering: "How many people in that waiting area had no problem with that guy?"
I asked him about the racial makeup of the crowd. "They were white people and they were on their phones," he said. "It really bothered me—the whole experience."
White supremacists marched in Olympia after the police shooting of an unarmed African American youth in May. The Olympian received a tip that the marchers were connected to Volksfront, a group that, as of 2008, was the "most active neo-Nazi group on the West Coast," according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Seattle bureau of the FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.